They say two things in life are certain - death and taxes. In the case of footballers, the old adage needs a third unavoidable element: initiation songs.
And unfortunately for yours truly, that also extends to staff.
For context, it’s my fourth overseas pre-season tour with the Under-23s during David Unsworth’s reign and there’s also been a few overnight trips for away games back home. I’ve enjoyed every single moment of them all. Until last night.
Wedding toasts, work presentations, public speaking… All a piece of cake compared to the pressure that comes with standing on a chair in front of a 30-plus crowd, even of people you know. This isn’t karaoke - there’s no backing music or other, possibly inebriated, people to drown you out. It’s all acapella with no cues and leaves you massively exposed.
I thought I was prepared - I’ve successfully memorised lengthy speeches before, so surely I could remember a song I’d heard countless times. In hindsight, I should definitely have gone with one with fewer words.
‘That’s Amore’ by Dean Martin. By providing the least worthy cover version, I’m sure I’ll never be able to enjoy listening to it properly again. I’m sure it will be familiar to at least some of the players, despite a slight age gap, but the execution didn’t lend itself to getting them to sing along.
Here's how it should have gone...
I wasn’t the first staff member to take to the chair this week. Fitness coaches Jason O’Keefe and Jack Phillips produced steady and clap-enducing renditions of Will Smith’s ‘Miami’ and The Foundations’ ’Build Me Up Buttercup’ respectively, while @efc_cameraman, Phil Winrow, braved ‘Hooked On A Feeling’ and got a credible reception.
Of the new signings, Boris Mathis stuck to what he knew by singing a French song, while moments before my turn, Nathangelo Markelo went with one similarly close to home with a Dutch ditty. Anton Donkor delivered Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ and Josh Bowler managed to get through ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ by Drake without error. The standard of amateur singing had been set acceptably low.
As per the captain’s duty, I was called up by the charismatic David Henen, skipper so far this pre-season. After a brief introduction, I was then handed a makeshift microphone (pepper pot) and the room fell silent, all eyes staring upwards.
The chair felt unsteady, the pauses seemed a lifetime and for someone trained to deal with words, drawing a momentary blank after the first two lines was not the ideal start. It was downhill from there, with another memory wipe and some improvised lyrics that would raise an eyebrow from the Kings of Swing. Laughter during, empathetic applause at the end and thankfully no X-Factor-style critique. They’d all been in those shoes before and will have to be again should they step up to the first team or go out on loan. Uncomfortable moments that entertain everyone but the individual. But once it’s done, it’s done.
And thankfully, it wasn’t mentioned once at breakfast. Which was nice. The art of all this is probably making sure to not be too memorable. Of course, learning the words and being able to carry a tune always helps.
In any case, football was back on the agenda, with one more training session before the Under-23s take on Hull City at the La Manga Club facilities on Saturday at 11am.
With the goalkeepers getting to the pitch early once again, there was time to film a few sporting challenges among the trio. Keep an eye out for them in the coming weeks.
Our cameras stayed with the men between the sticks as their coach Andy Fairman gave them another punishing workout. This week we’ve witnessed them saving shots with every part of their body - including when Mateusz Hewelt blocked a strike from four-yards out with his nose. As much as I hated the singing, I would take public humiliation above getting footballs smashed at me any day of the week. An unenviable job for most, but someone’s got to do it - and these lads are as determined as any young stoppers I’ve seen. Rather you than me, boys.
The rest of the players, bar Liam Walsh who continued to work back to full fitness via a one-on-one session with physio Joe Hinnigan, took part in a practice match. Well, what better way to prepare for a real one?
After training, the whole squad made a visit to the nearby CaixaBank to donate Everton merchandise to the organisation’s charity foundation - the gifts going to underprivileged children and local people living in poverty. I’ve been at the Club for five-and-a-half years now and the work that Everton in the Community does never fails to inspire, so it was nice to see a kindred ethos and a new relationship being formed.
In advance of the game, today was always going to include just the one session, so a group of 14 had booked a round of golf on the acclaimed course in the afternoon. I was reliably informed at tea that David Unsworth and John Ebbrell had won the staff four-ball against Hinnigan and analyst Elliott Stonell, while Walsh and Louis Gray were said to have recorded the best scores among the players.
Tomorrow is matchday. And while we’re miles from home and it’s only a friendly, after a week in the camp building up to it… Come on you Blues!